On October 21st, Saguaro National Park hosted visitors, scientists, researchers, volunteers and students from across the country in an effort to inventory as many species as possible inside the park. I was able to participate in the event as a “Photo Ambassador” – which was fancy BioBlitz-speak for “guy with a camera”. As I made my way to BioBlitz on Friday morning, I was incredibly excited and inspired by the number of children participating in the event. There was bus-load after bus-load of kids enjoying displays of gila monsters, bugs and other desert creatures!
Basecamp, which is known as the Saguaro National Park Visitor Center the other 51-weeks of the year, was an amazing arena of science, discovery, festivities and camaraderie. At 11:30am they had an opening ceremony featuring Billy B – the “Natural Science Song and Dance Man” – singing and dancing with the kids. The ceremony also had speeches from the director of Saguaro National Park, a VP from National Geographic, and other dignitaries.
After the ceremony I made my way to the Science Tent to check in with the photo team. I skimmed the schedule for the next inventory and saw an insect team was heading out at 12:30pm. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I was not all that excited about going on a quest for tiny insects – it wasn’t as glamorous-sounding as tracking large mammals. However, I ended up having an amazing time – thanks, almost entirely, to the scientists on our team. Our crew consisted of 13 people. Four children, three volunteer adults, a writer from National Parks Magazine, two professional photographers, myself and two scientists from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago – Doug Taron and Celeste Troon.
As we set out through a wash behind Basecamp, Doug and Celeste’s passion was quite apparent – as was the exuberance of the children! The kids had a great time running up and down the wash pointing out every little creature they could find. We came across some spiders, grasshoppers, ants, butterflies and more – all of which Doug was spouting off fancy-sounding names for as Celeste jotted them down on the list.
Throughout the day the scientists used several techniques to identify each specimen. Some were kept in jars for further research, some were photographed, and some were sufficiently identified in the field. When they were placed into containers, they were passed around the group so everyone could get a better look. Doug and Celeste were incredibly patient with those of us who know nothing about bugs and were more than happy to answer questions about everything from bugs to what they do in their jobs back in Chicago.
After about 3 hours of wandering the desert in search of bugs, we made our way back to Basecamp. There, we indulged in an incredibly tasty Prickly Pear Eegee (for those of you not from Tucson, it’s a delicious frozen fruit drink that doesn’t usually come in Prickly Pear flavor). I checked back in at the Photo Ambassadors table and uploaded my photos and made my way back to town.
The results of the inventory are still being finalized but at this point there were over 800 species inventoried, over 400 of which were new to the Saguaro National Park species list, and a few of those were potentially never-before documented. It was incredibly special to be a part of this great event. It was put on by an exceptionally passionate and dedicated team of hundreds from National Geographic, the National Parks Service, Friends of Saguaro National Park, and other supporters. Then there was the huge number of scientists and an impressive number of volunteers. Thanks to everyone who was part of this effort and I hope those of you that participated had as great of an experience as I did!